It was shortly before the start of last week’s county commission meeting when Commissioner Holly Davis said to me:
I’m thinking, “I didn’t know Holly went to the track…”
Then I snapped to attention. “Oh! YOUR ponies! Heck yeah!”
So Saturday morning my wife Deb and I were treated to a carriage ride through Citrus Hills courtesy of Holly and her special friends, Strawberry and Rhubarb. (Even more special: Strawberry is Rhubarb’s mom. Details are important.)
It was a wonderful time and an experience I’ll treasure. We enjoyed the warm morning, friendly neighbors smiling to see a pair of ponies trotting by and, best of all, we didn’t fall off the carriage which, if you knew anything about Deb and me, you’d question now whether I’m being truthful. (I am. Maybe.)
Later on I started thinking about the first days after my August 2021 retirement when I had no clue what came next.
I had spent nearly 35 years writing politics at the Chronicle and suddenly that was no longer the case. Now what? I had to make a quick call. Would I separate myself from all my community activity and go write press releases for a living until Social Security time? Or would I somehow stay connected and see where that took me?
My old boss Gerry Mulligan made it easy for me. He said I needed to use the skills and knowledge I gained at the Chronicle to help my community.
Great, but how to do that? The Chronicle was my vehicle. How was I to stay connected politically on my own?
I started writing out a list of people I needed to have heart-to-heart conversations about moving this forward. The first three names on my list: Ruthie Schlabach, Holly Davis and Jeff Kinnard.
Can’t recall who came first, but I met with all three commissioners individually at Cattle Dog’s in Inverness. I’d like to share the incredible advice they offered, but truthfully what I remember most about these chats is how deep we went personally.
I learned about these three individuals, not three commissioners. And it dawned on me I spent an entire career interviewing commissioners for good quotes but rarely going below the surface. Sure, I’ve had commissioner friends over the years, but it usually develops on the campaign trail not after they’re already in office.
(It's because of those early talks that I rarely "interview" people anymore. We just meet for chats. I learn a lot more looking people in the eye than I do scribbling their comments.)
These chats, and the dozens that have followed since, provided me an entirely different outlook on their jobs and the community in general. People think being a county commissioner is the real deal but I’m telling you, it can be lonely. Just about everyone wants something from a commissioner.
All three were very supportive of the Just Wright Citrus idea. Holly’s company, the Horsefly Group, designed my logo and business cards. Jeff’s business, Kinnard Chiropractic, signed on early as a JWC advertising sponsor.
I consider them both friends, as I do Ruthie. And with that friendship comes blunt conversation at times, which means that while we’re friends, we’re not always friendly toward one another.
Just Thursday morning I received a text from Ruthie upset about something I wrote. We had a spirited back-and-forth and no doubt she thinks I’m full of it. (I am but that’s another topic.)
Holly and I have had numerous conversations about this and that. They get rather intense at times.
As for Jeff, I’ve mentioned that he reads blogs just as they’re posted. So it’s not unusual for me to write about some county thing, post it at 10 p.m. and receive a text from Jeff 15 minutes later telling me why I’m all wrong.
But you know what? I have their respect and they have mine. All three are known to check up on me if I disappear for a few days. I do the same with them.
Ruthie Schlabach, Holly Davis and Jeff Kinnard: All good people. We’re fortunate they’re on our side.
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Mike Wright has written about Citrus County government and politics for 35 years.